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04 April 2016

Nepalese children trafficked to Britain would more likely be deported than protected

Our Press and Digital Media Manager Jakub Sobik on the shocking cases of Nepalese children being sold into domestic slavery in Britain.

boy after the earthquake
Nepalese children after the earthquake are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Picture: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

The Sun newspaper’s investigation into trafficking of children who survived last year’s earthquake brought home a few uncomfortable truths.

First, the video shows how the reporters secretly filmed a trafficker talking about selling children for domestic work, showing us the vile people engaging in this crime. The trader talking about the children as if he was talking about commodities, lining up children to pick from and bluntly advising how to exploit them, brought back the darkest memories of slave markets that we tend to think are a thing of the long gone past.

Second, it brought to the fore what Anti-Slavery International was warning about in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake: that humanitarian crises resulting from either natural disasters or violent conflict, in which children are orphaned and adults impoverished, bring big risks of trafficking, be it for domestic servitude, sexual exploitation or other forms of forced labour.

Third, it is a little sad to see that it took the prospect of Nepalese children being trafficked to the UK to bring the problem home. Children have been trafficked before, mostly to India, but the story never hit the mainstream media the way it has now.

However, it also reminds us about the reality of slavery in the 21st century Britain. Only last year there were almost 1000 children referred to the authorities as potential victims of trafficking. As slavery is by its nature hidden, there are potentially further thousands of children in slavery in Britain today.

Not figuratively but literally in slavery: forced to work for little or nothing for hours a day, abused, exploited, unable to leave and completely dependent on their traffickers.

Finally, the story reminds us about the shortcomings of the UK’s anti-trafficking response. It’s all well and good for the Home Secretary to call slavery ‘an abhorrent crime’, hail the Modern Slavery Act as a panacea to all problems and hail the UK as world anti-slavery leaders.

The truth is, the UK treats child victims of slavery differently depending on where they’re from. If they’re from the UK, they’re much more likely to be recognised as victims and supported. If they’re from somewhere else, particularly from outside of Europe, they might not be so lucky. Instead of being protected, they will more likely be given a deportation order.

Just look at the government's own statistics. In the second quarter of 2015, out of 52 British children referred to authorities as potential victims, 43 were officially recognised as victims. In the same quarter, out of 141 children from Albania, only 9 received the same recognition; out of 104 Vietnamese children only 6; out 56 Nigerian ones, only 4. Granted, many of the cases are still pending at the time the stats were published in writing, but the disproportion is too big to significantly change the outlook which is more or less consistent with other periods.

So, with all the outrage, calls for investigations and action, here’s the truth: even if these vulnerable Nepalese children make it to Britain and are able to escape their vile traffickers, not many of them will be supported by the authorities. They are more likely to be deported back to Nepal, where they face the same vulnerabilities that caused them to be trafficked in the first place.

And this is the saddest part of this story. It’s time to start truly protecting the victims of a ‘truly abhorrent crime’.

PS. Anti-Slavery has been advocating to improve the victim protection in the UK for a long time, please join our campaign and take our latest action - ask your MP to protect domsetic workers from slavery.

Follow Jakub on Twitter: @notravic

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